Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Working Landscapes



This past Saturday, fellow CES staffer Dan Small and I attended a grassland and shrubland bird symposium sponsored by Virginia Working Landscapes and held at the Smithsonian Conservation Biology Institute in Front Royal, Virginia.  VWL is a consortium of groups interested in, among other things, establishing demonstration sites to showcase best practices for various land uses on working farms and creating a network for landowners to exchange information and ideas.



Bobolink in fall plumage.


We knew it was going to be a good day when the first item on the agenda was a bird walk and tour of a nearby farm.  The group of 25 or so landowners and managers admired and discussed the grass buffers, their species composition and what problems or challenges they had faced in their own efforts to create and maintain grasslands.  As we ambled through Big Bluestem and Indian Grass we heard the constant calls of Bobolinks moving between the grass stand and the adjacent alfalfa field.   Other grassland birds detected included Grasshopper Sparrows and a Dickcissel.  It was almost as though Dan had planted the birds as a primer for his talk about the CRFRS grasslands (he highlighted all three species).




Male Dickcissel.  Photo by Bill Hubick


Back at the lecture hall, speakers covered such topics as bird-friendly haying practices on Vermont dairy farms, maximizing bird habitat on public lands and identifying suitable habitat for Golden-winged Warblers.  Dan Small, representing CRFRS and CES, described the establishment and management of the warm season grasslands on Chino Farms/ Chester River Field Research Station and the birds that have colonized the site.

CES Field Ecologist Dan Small discussing the Chino grasslands.


Mike Wilson, of William and Mary’s Center for Conservation Biology, spoke about determining the appropriate use of land based on the size of the area.  Many grassland birds require larger spaces for breeding habitat than other species.  This means that you could install a perfect looking five acre grassland, but those five acres are probably not enough to sustain any grassland birds.  If you only have five acres of property, he suggests managing it as a shrubland instead.  Many species of birds requiring second-growth scrub/shrub habitats are in decline.  Birds such as Golden-winged Warblers, Yellow-breasted Chats, Dickcissels and Northern Bobwhites are facing great challenges due to habitat loss and could greatly benefit from managing lands for them.



Shrub/scrub habitat may look messy to humans, but looks safe and inviting to birds and other wildlife.


We met many enthusiastic landowners who wanted to provide the great bird habitat that was also compatible with other land uses such as haying, farming and hunting.  It was exciting to see so many like-minded folks and to hear about some of the compromises available to landowners.  Several expressed interest in seeing CRFRS firsthand and learning more about what we have accomplished on Chino.

Information on Virginia Working Landscapes can be found on  their website. Though geared toward Virginians, much of the information is relevant to Marylanders.  Many land restoration projects can be supported through grants from the NRCS (Natural Resources Conservation Service).   Thanks to Bill Hubick for the use of his Dickcissel photo.

Maren Gimpel is a field ecologist at the Chester River Field Research Station.  Photos and stories about the goings on of CRFRS can be found at www.facebook.com/crfrc or at www.washcoll.edu/ces/chesterriverfieldresearchcenter

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